Seeing the city through the trees

David Bayles's love affair with trees began more than 20 years ago

I'm a tree guy. When I saw the cover of "Urban Forest," I instinctively picked it up: A palm tree glows and grows within the spiral ramp of a parking garage; sharp-edged concrete and curvy fronds share the human landscape.

David Bayles has been photographing the tensions between trees and humans for more than 20 years.

It's a love affair that he traces, oddly enough, to a four-year stint as a logger in the western United States. Bayles was earning money to go to photography school. As he worked, he found himself studying the trees in the forest - their shapes, sizes, and peculiarities.

Over time, his pictures of trees and their beauty began to reflect the realities and contradictions of the built versus natural environment around him.

In these black-and-white and color photographs, Bayles shows us what we see and don't see every day: trees in full splendor, trees barely surviving, or in some cases, trees ready for the fireplace or landfill.

His pictures, mostly taken in California, show an eye for angle and juxtaposition, humor as well as (silent) social commentary.

One tree is trimmed so closely that the leaves don't fall - "No raking," says the owner.

A huge Moreton Bay fig in Santa Barbara splendidly survives amid a sea of cars. "Faux Forest" is a building planted with trees in front of it, the building itself a windowless canvas covered with a painted mountain forest scene.

Bayles provides simple captions under his pictures with brief descriptions in the back of the book. It's fun to be let in on how a photo came to be.

You don't have to be a tree hugger to appreciate these urban forests.

• Greg Palmer is an assistant news photo editor with the Monitor.

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